Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mother and Father, or Egg and Sperm?

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to the BBC World News program on my local NPR station, and heard a discussion that left me shaking my head in mixed wonder and disgust. The topic was a proposed new law in Great Britain that would require birth certificates to record, in addition to the names of the father and mother, the name of the donor if the child was conceived using sperm or an egg donated by a third person. The reason for this, according to the sponsors of the legislation, is that children have a right to know who their "true parents" are.

On the show, a young English man was interviewed who went on at great length about how his life had been ruined and his ability to trust destroyed because his parents had lied to him about the "true" identity of his father - the man who contributed the sperm that fertilized his mother's egg. He spoke eloquently about the "stigma" of being the product of artificial insemination, and about his "shame" and "disgrace" at finding out later in life that he had been "deceived" and "deliberately cut off from my father."

I'm not a medical ethicist, and I'm hardly the best parent ever to try to raise a child, but there are a few things I think need to be said here.

First of all, is it right for a couple to use an egg or sperm donated by a third party in order to have a child? I'm not sure it is. I can understand the desperate wish of an infertile couple to have a child, but what is the ultimate emotional cost - both to the parents and the child - of using the egg or sperm of a complete stranger?

If I can be flip for a moment despite the seriousness of the issue, the central question is this: "who's your daddy?" Is it the fellow who earned money by donating healthy sperm to a fertility clinic, or is it the man who taught you to walk, went to work every day to support you, sat through years of school plays and ball games, helped you with your homework, and taught you the important lessons of life you needed to know? "Who's your mommy?" Is it the lady who sidelined her dreams to change your diapers and nurse you through all the childhood sicknesses; who taught you how to dance in the living room before the junior prom, prepared years of meals for you, and read you stories at bedtime...or is it the woman who donated an unneeded egg to a fertility clinic?

The young man interviewed in the BBC news story was full of anger because he had been "deliberately cut off from my father." But I have to wonder - who does he think his father really is, given the questions I asked above?

Being a parent is the most important job any of us will ever do, because we create and shape a life. Being a parent is complicated enough without adding the emotional and ethical complications of - essentially - having a third person in the bed with us. A few days ago, and in another context, I wrote in this blog that parenthood doesn't end with the orgasm. It's a lifelong job with no guidebook, and most of us muddle through and manage somehow to raise healthy and well-adjusted children.

I feel very sorry for the young man in the BBC interview, and I feel even more sorry for his parents - the people who actually did the heavy lifting of raising him. He has decided that his true father isn't the man who brought him up, but the stranger who simply contributed the sperm. Were I his father, I would be insulted and depressed...and believe that, after all, I had no son.

One more note related to this topic: today's post in the wonderful blog "It Is a Numeric Life" (see the link in my link list) is titled, "Why Humans Have Sex - Top 10 Reasons." It refers to a University of Texas study of 2000 people and their motivations for having sex. Number one on the list is "I was in the heat of the moment."

Number 27 is "I wanted to have a child."

What more needs to be said?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

2 comments:

Amanda said...

I'm not adopted (I've asked) but I've always thought that people who are adopted should feel so proud because somebody loved them so much to want to raise them as their own. They were CHOSEN. Perhaps I'm not qualified to comment like that since I don't know what it feels like but I do know that if I found out my parents adopted me, I'd probably love them even more.

YO said...

Very well said, both Amanda and Bilbo. The real parents are those who raise a child. Being a "parent" is much more than a biological connection.